By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, May 21 (Reuters) - A measure requiring utilities to generate a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, overcame a legislative hurdle in the U.S. Senate on Thursday.
The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted down an amendment offered by Republican Senator Jeff Sessions that would have removed the renewable electricity standard from the energy package the panel is currently debating.
The proposed committee bill would mandate that power plants meet targets to gradually produce more renewable power, beginning with 3 percent of their output between 2011 and 2013 and rising to 15 percent between 2021 and 2039.
Utilities could meet about a quarter of their renewable requirements through energy efficiency gains.
"The renewable electricity standard would put us on the track to becoming less dependent on greenhouse gas-emitting resources. It would also move us in the direction of being more secure as to price and supply, as well as less dependent for foreign sources," committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman said.
This legislation is weaker than Bingaman’s original proposal, which would have required 20 percent of electricity to come from renewable energy in 2021-2039.
Despite the changes, Sessions and other lawmakers argued the bill would harm certain regions of the country where significantly increasing the use of resources like solar and wind power may not be feasible.
"I don’t think this makes sense. In the Southeast, this will be a disproportionate cost to us," said Sessions, who is from Alabama.
States that do not meet the energy and efficiency standards would have the option to buy renewable power, or renewable energy and efficiency credits from other entities, or pay 2.1 cents per kilowatt hour.
Lawmakers also complained that the legislation did not allow states to count nuclear power and some hydropower as renewable energy.
The panel will continue to debate the renewable mandate when Congress returns from its Memorial Day holiday recess.
The panel also debated amendments for a measure that would require the Energy Department to create an emergency reserve of 30 million barrels of petroleum product supplies, including gasoline and diesel fuel.
The bill would move authority to release oil supplies from the separate Strategic Petroleum Reserve from the president to the energy secretary. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Walter Bagley)